Covering an area of 251, 700 square miles, the province of Saskatchewan is almost three times the size of Great Britain, yet it has a population of only 1, 010, 146. For such a big place, the rest of the world seems to know very little about Saskatchewan, if anything at all. Even in Canada, the majority of Canadians asked about Saskatchewan have never been there and have no desire to go. Those that have driven through the province say that, "there is nothing there, just endless wheat fields."
Saskatchewan is the place you pass through to get somewhere else. But hidden amongst the wheat fields is a rich and diverse, deeply traditional prairie culture. It is an eclectic mix of Hutterite colonies, Indian reservations, stock car racing, and cowboys; towns and cities which rise out of the landscape with their seductive names like Moose Jaw, Big Beaver, and Buffalo Gap, along with the main industry of grain farming.
In 2005 Saskatchewan celebrated its centennial year. But as the pioneering spirit of the province's founders is remembered, rural life is experiencing a major decline. The many abandoned farms which scar the landscape are a testimony to this. Although Saskatchewan is still predominately agricultural, today seventy percent of the population live in towns and cities. Many years of poor grain prices, along with the dominance of corporate agribusiness are destroying the cultural landscape of the province, where 20,000 small farms have closed since 1986 alone. As DeNeen Brown highlights in a story in the Washington Post (Oct 25, 2003): 'Towns throughout Canada’s prairies are dying slow deaths. All along the highways of Saskatchewan abandoned buildings lean against the prairie wind, which blows through the cracked windows of houses deserted by the families who traded them for a few thousand dollars or for the cars they drove away.'
However, the people that remain and call Saskatchewan home express a deep passion for and understanding of prairie life: an acceptance of the endless space and the loneliness it brings, but also the importance of community in a world of rural isolation. And underlying it all is a deep sense of place--an intimate relationship with the inescapable open landscape which surrounds everything and everyone.
[This project has developed into a collaboration with the Saskatchewan writer Ken Mitchell, taking the form of an image and word performance and a future book.]